Yet another reason why you should keep your blood pressure in check.

By Zee Krstic
Updated: March 22, 2019

Earlier this month, researchers shared how people can preserve brain health and memory skills as they age, and suggested that increased physical activity could play an important role. While you already know that exercise is important for your overall health, new follow-up research suggests an even more compelling reason to hit the gym—our brain health may be directly linked to blood pressure levels (which regular exercise can help lower).

The study found that those with a systolic blood pressure of 120 or lower were 19 percent less likely to develop cognitive issues—including memory loss and a decline in brain function, both precursors to dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Researchers came to this conclusion after studying 9,000 participants over the age of 50. The results—titled "Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT)"—were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

While lowering blood pressure has long been shown to benefit those facing cardiovascular health issues, this is the first time it's been shown to aid cognitive health as well. While the study found that participants were 17 percent less likely to develop dementia, the study wasn't long enough to suggest significant changes in the medical field. However, NBC reports that the Alzheimer's Association pledged an additional $800,000 for a follow-up trial with a timeline of at least two years longer than the first study.

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Just last year, American health guidelines for healthy blood pressure levels were lowered to 130, so the study's target number is not too far off. Here’s the thing: focusing on lowering your blood pressure could help offset risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. Alzheimer's disease is also a major concern for Americans, as it's currently the sixth-leading cause of death, and nearly 6 million Americans have been diagnosed with the cognitive disease. By 2050, experts predict that more than 14 million will be affected by the disease, according to the Alzheimer's association.

"MCI is simply the earliest form of dementia,” Dr. Jeff Williamson, the study's lead author and gerontologist at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, told NBC News. “For anyone whose blood pressure is over 130, or looking to potentially prevent losing memory or thinking skills, this is something you can do.”

The bottom line: There's more research to be done before professionals will specifically target blood pressure in those suffering from dementia or other forms of cognitive decline. And doctors warn that the new study isn't substantial enough for the elderly to start upping their blood pressure medication without first consulting their healthcare professionals. But making an effort to stabilize your blood pressure levels through exercise and healthy eating will definitely aid in your overall health and longevity.

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